Pope Directly Involved In Sex Abuse Coverup

Jim Burroway

April 9th, 2010

[Update: Copies of relevant letters have been posted online here.]

At what point should American prosecutors consider filing racketeering charges against senior American and Vatican officials of the Roman Catholic Church? We now have evidence that the current head of the Church was directly and personally involved in a conspiracy to conceal criminal sexual exploitation in the United States. The Associated Press has found the smoking gun:

The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including “the good of the universal church,” according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature.

…The letter, signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was typed in Latin and is part of years of correspondence between the Diocese of Oakland and the Vatican about the proposed defrocking of the Rev. Stephen Kiesle.

[Updates: the full text of the letter is available here. Fourteen other letters written by priests concerning Kiesle’s conduct are available here.]

Kiesle had been accused of tying up two young boys and molesting them in a San Francisco-area church rectory, for which he got off with an unbelievable slap on the wrist of three years probation in 1978. When his probation ended in 1981, Kiesle asked to leave the priesthood and the diocese submitted papers to Rome to defrock him. Oakland’s then bishop John Cummins wrote to Ratzinger in 1982, saying “It is my conviction that there would be no scandal if this petition were granted and that as a matter of fact, given the nature of the case, there might be greater scandal to the community if Father Kiesle were allowed to return to the active ministry.” Ratzinger’s response?

In the November 1985 letter, Ratzinger says the arguments for removing Kiesle are of “grave significance” but added that such actions required very careful review and more time. He also urged the bishop to provide Kiesle with “as much paternal care as possible” while awaiting the decision, according to a translation for AP by Professor Thomas Habinek, chairman of the University of Southern California Classics Department.

But the future pope also noted that any decision to defrock Kiesle must take into account the “good of the universal church” and the “detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly considering the young age.” Kiesle was 38 at the time.

Stephen Kiesel in 2002, after having been arrested for molesting three girls thrity years earlier.

Stephen Kiesel in 2002, after having been arrested for molesting three girls thirty years earlier.

Kiesle had just been ordained in 1972, which means that he must have been tying up and molesting children right out of the gate. This article from 2002 indicates that he had been accused of molesting girls “thirty years ago.” It also gives you an idea about how notorious this guy was. Police suspected he was responsible for the abduction of Amber Swartz-Garcia in 1998 from her Pinole, CA home, as well as the abductions of three other missing girls. Police searched the home Kiesle shared with his wife in Truckee, but found no evidence in that case. (Another convicted felon later confessed to Amber’s killing.)

That same year however, he was arrested and charged with thirteen counts of molestation after three women came forward to accuse him of abusing them while serving in a parish in Fremont in the 1970s. This appears to have been the “thirty years ago” allegations mentioned earlier. All but two of those charges were thrown out after the US Supreme Court found California’s law extending the statute of limitations unconstitutional, but I haven’t been able to find out what happened with the remaining two charges. In 2003, he and the diocese were sued by seven women who said they were abused at St. Paula’s church in during the 1970s.  He was sentenced in 2004 to six years in state prison after pleading no contest to molesting a young girl in 1995 at his Truckee home.

But the well-founded fear that Kiesel would go on molesting more children wasn’t Ratzinger’s greatest concern, it was the fear of bad publicity that led to him arguing for further delay after already delaying for three years. This, despite Kiesle asking to be defrocked, and his bishop all but begging that Ratzinger laicize him, saying that Kiesle would be a threat to children if he remained in the priesthood.

But Cummins isn’t exactly the hero in all of this. While he was warning Ratzinger that Kiesle was a danger to children, what did he do?

As Kiesle’s fate was being weighed in Rome, the priest returned to suburban Pinole to volunteer as a youth minister at St. Joseph Church, where he had served as associate pastor from 1972 to 1975. [Emphasis mine]

And it gets worse.

Kiesle continued to volunteer with children, according to Maurine Behrend, who worked in the Oakland diocese’s youth ministry office in the 1980s. After learning of his history, Behrend complained to church officials. When nothing was done she wrote a letter, which she showed to the AP.

“Obviously nothing has been done after EIGHT months of repeated notifications,” she wrote. “How are we supposed to have confidence in the system when nothing is done? A simple phone call to the pastor from the bishop is all it would take.”

She eventually confronted Cummins at a confirmation and Kiesle was gone a short time later, Behrend said.

[Update: Behrend’s 1988 letter complaining about Keisle’s working with youth is available online here.]

Kiesle was no longer a priest by 1987, although documents reviewed by the AP don’t show how, when or why he was laicized. The AP has constructed a complete timeline of the Kiesle case. Another timeline is available at BishopAccountability.org.

Priya Lynn

April 9th, 2010

So much for Bill Donahues wild-eyed frothing at the mouth rants that the pope is innocent and knew nothing about the sexual abuse.


April 9th, 2010

This is an example of how pedophiles abuse children, not specifically boys or girls. The gender of the victim is more a result of what gender is most available rather than the gender orientation of the victimizer.

Timothy Kincaid

April 9th, 2010

Meanwhile, in a secret meeting in the Vatican:

Cardinal Drooling: It’s the gays, we have to blame it on the gays.

Cardinal Robes: And the press, don’t forget to blame the press. They’re out to get His Holiness.

Cardinal Letch: And the kiddies, with their tender flesh. Oh how they temp me, ahem, temp THEM with their supple skin and their winsome smiles and their innocence and their…

Drooling: Letch!! Pull yourself together.

Letch: Sorry. I just get carried away in the defense of the one true holy church. When I hear these accusations I can’t help but feel pity for the tender victims. The young nubile… NO, NO … I agree. Blame the gays. But how? He brought his holy touch, ahem, I mean he molested both boys and girls.

Robes: It was Vatican II. And the homosexuals in the seminary. And gay marriage. Especially gay marriage.

Letch: But gay marriage was unheard of in 1978.

Robes: Well… let’s see… it was a homosexual who had infiltrated Ratzinger’s office and forged his name. All because he was being blackmailed by the press over his gay marriage.

Drooling: Excellent! I’ll get the press office to issue a release and tell Cardinal Ranting to bring it up in his homily, Pentecost perhaps. Now has anyone seen Monsignor Pimping? He was going to arrange for me to meet with a lovely young seminarian to, ummmm, pray.

Ben in Oakland

April 9th, 2010

Timothy– you’re not being nice. Vatican II helped to open up the church.

Ben in Oakland

April 9th, 2010

Oh, did I just pull a bishop?


April 9th, 2010

The hits keep coming! I hope they drag it out as long as possible. The church deserves every bit of this.


April 9th, 2010

When Pope John Paul II came into office, he ground the processes of granting permission for priests to leave the priesthood to a halt. His concern was the drastic drop in active priests in addition to the drop in men entering seminaries. Ultimately, he had a critical shortage of personnel, and part of his answer was to just say no. All of this predated the public sexual abuse scandal. Priests leaving the priesthood and the drop in new applicants all pre-dated the scandal.

I remember back then hearing about priests who left the priesthood years ago, had married, had a few kids, a regular job, but still hadn’t recieved their Vatican papers releasing them from their vows, because Pope John Paul II wasn’t going to grant it. These guys were stand up guys from what I recall, and had just decided to move on, rather than live their lives in limbo. I just make the point to set the actual priority of the Church.

The fact that John Paul II and Ratzinger would put a higher priority on maintaining their “priests on the books” numbers than protecting children from known sexual abusers tells you a great deal about where the Church was back then, in addition to where they are now.

They treated decent guys who had just determined that the priesthood wasn’t for them with utter contempt, trying to force these men to put their lives on hold indefinitely, while turning a blind eye to known predators, just to keep a priest in every rectory.

We determine our priorities based on our values.

Paul in Canada

April 9th, 2010

I wonder if this will get into mainstream media?


April 9th, 2010

It did already. Headline news everywhere.


April 10th, 2010

how did this guy end up becoming the pope? what happened… were all the other candidates pedos?

yikes. didnt nostradamus predict something about the last pope and the end of the world?

not that i believe any of that stuff, but… imagination… y’know…

problem is… in reality, it’s all very sad.

i hope justice prevails and that pedos stop enjoying church protection and that kids everywhere will be safe.


April 10th, 2010

The Onion published an article that has a a similar vein of thought as Tim’s parody of secret Vatican meetings.


“‘This is absolutely unacceptable,’ Pope Benedict said. ‘It seems a weakening of faith in God has prevented our priests from exercising moderation when sexually abusing helpless minors.'”


April 10th, 2010

Kiesele was heterosexual, he also went after grown-up women and married. Why drag in the homosexual bit?
Molesting little girls is very nasty, seducing grown women in what every heterosexual tries to do.

Richard Rush

April 11th, 2010

Let’s imagine this magnitude of criminal activity by employees of Microsoft (for example) along with a similar enabling cover-up conducted at the highest executive level. How long would it take for a search warrant to be issued, and for criminal charges to be filed against Bill Gates and others.

Since the Vatican is a sovereign city-state (a disgrace in itself) I guess we won’t see a search warrant. But I’d really like to see a NATO invasion of the Vatican. I’d bet the secrets squirreled away in that place would finally blow the lid off the Catholic Church (and maybe all of Christianity) once and for all.


April 11th, 2010

It’s amazing how so many forget to “protect our children” when it is the Pope or a priest who is not doing so. Today, a pharmacist in Walgreens stated , out of the blue that he was angry that preists have been “defrocked” over child abuse allegations. I replied ” I’m upset over the fact that The Catholic Church stays silent”. Child abuse, sexual or emotional is a disgrace. Many anti gay groups such as NOM and FOF say gays are the ones who harm children. Not true. Pedophiles harm children Both gay and heterosexual. It has more to do with a crime and power than ones sexual orientation. Regardless of who is committing the act, it is an intolerable abuse. I have no sympathy for anyone who engages in it. The pope has “immunity”. It’s one that sadly, is extended to others as well. It’s a shame that some men are held to a different regard than others.

Fr. Maurus

April 17th, 2010

“We now have evidence that the current head of the Church was directly and personally involved in a conspiracy to conceal criminal sexual exploitation in the United States. The Associated Press has found the smoking gun:”

REALITY CHECK: Kiesle had already served time in jail for his crimes. This letter involves no cover up a crime from the police. The fact that Cummins wanted to wash his hands of Kiesle by having him laicized (“defrocked” as some call it) does not change the fact that it fell to him to monitor Kiesle, who by then had been suspended from public ministry as a priest. Laicization simply involves the request that a priest be dispensed from the obligation of celibacy. The fact remains that before 2001 it fell to Cummins to discipline his priest by removing him from a setting that would involve contact with children and to properly monitor him. That he failed to do so was not Ratzinger’s fault. Don’t get me wrong, I think that enough IS NOT BEING DONE to do justice to the victims in terms of real consequences for the bishops and superiors who failed to do their jobs to protect children and seek justice with the law. However, this letter is no “smoking gun” at all, and does not prove that THIS INDIVIDUAL, that is, Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, was at the time guilty of any criminal conduct, or approved it in any way.

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